So many songs in the catalog of Creedence Clearwater Revival, and the songbook of John Fogerty, have continued to echo through the ages. But one that made its Billboard Hot 100 debut on November 1, 1969 has not only become prominent among their signatures, but one of the most powerful protest messages in the rock annals. It’s the eloquent and potent diatribe “Fortunate Son.”
The song was one half of the first single from what was soon to become CCR’s fourth studio LP in the space of just 18 months, Willy and the Poor Boys. Without ever naming names in its evident anger, Fogerty’s lyric eloquently expressed the rage of the counter-culture of the time about America’s entanglement in Vietnam.
Rich men make war, poor men fight them
More than that, it railed at a political milieu in which so many of the country’s young men were being dispatched to their death (or in many other cases, as later became clear, their mental scarring), with little more than lip service from Washington and beyond. “The song speaks more to the unfairness of class than war itself,” Fogerty said later. “It’s the old saying about rich men making war and poor men having to fight them.”
“Fortunate Son” has continued to be a clarion call for social justice, but at the same time it has been repeatedly misinterpreted. For example, the song’s theme of privilege among those (born “silver spoon in hand”) who were able to leave the fighting to others was misappropriated by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign team. His use of it at a 2020 rally so enraged Fogerty that he issued a cease and desist order, and a statement in which he said Trump represented exactly the sort of individual that the song had described in the first place.
With some irony, the composition became the title of Fogerty’s 2015 autobiography, in which he pointed out that although he wrote the number in just 20 minutes, he had been having the thoughts that informed it for three or four years. “With this kind of song, you’re carrying a weighty, difficult subject,” he wrote. “I didn’t want the song to be pulled down into that ‘Now we’re serious; everybody get quiet’ place. If I was going to write a quote unquote protest song, a serious song, I didn’t want it to be a lame song.”
Hall of Fame recognition
The song was a double A-side with Creedence’s “Down On The Corner” single, which charted a week ahead of it in the US and climbed to No.3. “Fortunate Son” peaked at No.14, but was later deservedly inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The powerful combination of message and energy moved numerous major artists to cover it, on disc and/or on stage, such as U2, Pearl Jam, Bob Seger, and Bruce Springsteen. It’s been used in video games like Call of Duty, Battlefield 2, and Grand Theft Auto, and in movies such as Forrest Gump. A new official video was created for the song in 2018 by director Ben Fee.
Fogerty himself revisited “Fortunate Son,” with Foo Fighters, as a powerful lead-off for his 2013 all-star album of remakes, Wrote A Song For Everyone. For all its potential for being misread, it does indeed remain a song for the everyday man and woman.
“Fortunate Son” is on Willy and the Poor Boys, which can be bought here.